Editor's Note 1: This article covers both objective and subjective looks at my immersive system. Many more articles detailing specific parts of the system, the system as a whole, and immersive audio in general are in the queue. - CC
Editor's note 2: This review was done using the Wilson Audio Alexia V loudspeakers, but this couldn't be mentioned at the time of review due to a standard manufacturer's embargo on release of information about unannounced products. All measurements and listening impressions used the Alexia V, while all images show Alexia Series 2. A full review of the Alexia V has now been published and is available here. - CC
My immersive audio system has been several months in the making. A system with 12 speakers, 7 amplifiers, cabling in the walls, etc... isn't designed in a weekend, or even an extended holiday weekend. Months of research and taking to experts culminated in my selection of components and software. Waiting for everything to arrive was tough, but it gave me additional time to eat, sleep, and breathe immersive audio. Once all the pieces of the puzzle arrived, I installed the system on my own because I like to understand absolutely everything about the products and I like to share the experience with the Audiophile Style Community (as seen here). Everyone else has the luxury of a highly qualified dealer to handle the design and installation.
Now for the fun part. After everything was installed, I reached out to the people who could help me make the system really sing. Peter McGrath and Tyler Hall of Wilson Audio, Maier Shadi of The Audio Salon, and Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. Each person helped me either from afar and/or a personal visit to my listening room.
Last week, Peter McGrath and Tyler Hall of Wilson Audio both spent ten hours, over two days, in my listening room. I wanted to help, but watching these two work their magic, it was clear that I'd only be a hinderance. I watched and took notes as Tyler made tiny adjustments to the speakers and Peter immediately identified if the adjustments were better or worse sounding, from the listening position. A half-inch here, a half-inch there, and the results were amazing.
Anyone who has ever seen Peter work in similar situations understands what I'm talking about, completely. I had the opportunity to watch Peter setup two speakers and two subwoofers at RMAF in 2019. I couldn't believe what he did, using only his ears and years of experience. Last week, I had the privilege of watching the same thing in my own listening room. It was an experience to remember.
Once the physical setup was 100% complete, and Tyler and Peter had gone back to their hotel for the night, I measured my room using Audiolense and an Earthworks M30 microphone, and sent the results to Mitch Barnett. Running the measurements is the easy part. Creating a custom FIR convolution filter for a 7.1.4 system is well beyond my skill set. Mitch has designed the convolution filters for my system for roughly three years. My first experience with his work was when he delivered custom filters for my Wilson Alexia Series 2 loudspeakers. After that experience I was sold. I've since been conveying to everyone in the HiFi industry that convolution is capable of taking audio systems to levels never before seen / heard. It isn't your father's room correction. It's incredibly powerful.
Roughly thirty minutes after I sent the measurements to Mitch, he delivered my new 7.1.4 (12 channel) convolution filters. I enabled the filters, pressed play, and was stunned.
I fully understand that everyone wants to know how a 12 channel all-Wilson audio system sounds, but before I get further into my listening experience, let's take an objective look at my system. I encourage everyone to read through it because the results are stunning and Mitch describes it all in easy to digest language (OK, fairly easy). I don't believe there is another high end audio system like this in the world, yet.
The hardware/software consist of two Wilson Audio Alexia speakers, Wilson Audio WATCH center channel, eight Wilson Audio Alida speakers, one Wilson Audio Lōkē subwoofer, two Constellation Audio Inspiration mono amps driving the Alexia speakers, five Mytek Brooklyn AMP+ driving the Alidas and WATCH center, Merging Technologies HAPI Mk2 DAC, Merging Technologies Anubis D to D, and it's all cabled by Transparent Audio. Music servers are one MacBook Pro running Audirvana, Apple Music, and Hang Loose Convolver multichannel, one CAPS Twenty server running Windows and JRiver Media Center 29. Convolution on all systems uses FIR filters designed by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. I know this is a lot to digest, but I have another article in the queue describing every element of the chain. A list of my two channels and immersive systems can be found at this link - https://audiophile.style/system
Here's Mitch Barnett, from Accurate Sound, on the objective side of the system.
7.1.4 Immersive Audio System - Objectively
Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 DSP/DRC Calibration
Chris reached out to me to calibrate his Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 system using DSP/DRC. While I have calibrated a few Atmos 7.1.4 music production systems, this will be a first on the music reproduction side. Should be fun!
Audiolense XO is chosen as the DSP/DRC FIR filter designer software. With multichannel, digital crossovers, bass management, time alignment of drivers, frequency/phase linearization of drivers, plus global frequency and excess phase room correction capabilities, makes this software DRC product state of the art. Not all DSP/DRC software products are the same, not only comparing feature capabilities, but also the frequency and time domain resolution of the designed FIR filters. In fact, there are very few DSP/DRC products that can be categorized as being SOTA. If interested in why, here is a 2 hour master class on, Understanding the State of the Art of Digital Room Correction.
7.1.4 Speaker setup design in Audiolense
The first task is to design a speaker setup that includes bass management and LFE integration. Using Audiolense XO as the DSP FIR Designer software, here is what Chris’s 7.1.4 Atmos speaker setup looks like:
There are a couple items to note. One is that the Dolby Atmos spec calls for a LFE cut-off frequency of 120 Hz. We also want to be sure that the subwoofer controls are also set for 120 Hz and we will let Audiolense tune the time delay/phase when we get to the FIR filter design phase.
We also have bass management so that only the lowest frequencies below what the speakers can reproduce are off loaded to the sub. For example, Chris’s center speaker goes down to 40 Hz and anything below that will be offloaded to the sub. The surrounds down to 32 Hz and the mains to 20 Hz. We really want to make use of all 11 speakers’ low frequency capabilities and only offload what they can’t reproduce to the sub.
Looking at the Playback Format and Channel Routing Matrix tab in the speaker setup:
A few more items to note. One is that the 10 dB amplification of LFE is applied as per Dolby Atmos specification. The other is that Audiolense is based on the waveformatextensible standard, where back channels are before side channels. See: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/win32/api/mmreg/ns-mmreg-waveformatextensible. The solution here is to regard the back left and right as side left and right, and tweak the format setting like shown in the matrix.
Looking at the crossover configuration tab:
As an area of experimentation, one can raise the high pass XO frequencies, but I have found that in multi-channel surround systems, especially with 12 channels, one wants to leverage the bass output capabilities of each speaker and only offload what can’t be reproduced to the sub.
Measuring Chris’s Atmos 7.1.4 system
With the speaker setup designed, the next task is to measure the Atmos 7.1.4 system. Chris is using an Earthworks mic which is set at ear height and pointing straight up at the listening position. We used the generic 90 degree mic calibration file that shows the mic’s frequency response down -1dB at 10 kHz and about -4 dB down at 20 kHz.
Here is the measurement window in Audiolense ready to take a measurement:
Note the Output Channel numbering that Chris has modified so that the correct channel is being routed to the correct DAC channel, amp, and speaker. Also note the Delay (msec) column. Audiolense measures the delay time it takes for the signal from each speaker to reach the microphone. This is key to understand as Audiolense will use these delays to “time align” the drivers digitally so that the direct sound from all speakers will arrive at Chris’s ears all at the same time.
Fine tuning the levels of each speaker
Now that we have a measurement, we can look at both the frequency and timing response to see if we need to make any level adjustments and check the polarity of the speakers before designing a FIR filter. With 12 speakers, it may take a few iterations to get all of the levels to be more or less the same and checking that each speaker is wired up correctly.
I am not going to get into the details of using the Correction Procedure Designer in Audiolense to show the settings for Frequency Dependent Windowing (FDW) and other technical attributes. Those are covered in Audiophile Style Audiolense articles here and here and in my YouTube video here.
After applying psychoacoustic filtering and frequency dependent windowing, we see a visual representation of how our ears/brain hear the frequency response of Chris’s 7.1.4 Atmos system:
It shows that some levels need adjusting. The Green trace is Chris’s center speaker which is higher in SPL than the Left and Right mains (Blue and Red). The rest of the speakers have a pretty good level balance between themselves. Effectively, Chris needs to drop the level of the center channel by about -9 dB and mains by around – 6 dB. Taking another measurement with the levels trimmed:
Ah, now each speaker is much closer in level with each other. The reason this is important from a DSP calibration perspective is “filter insertion loss.” The best FIR filter designer programs only cut frequencies and never boost frequencies. So if one speaker is much louder than another then the DSP has to drop that level to match the level of the rest of the speakers. And in the case of Chris’s center speaker that was some 9 dB higher in SPL than the other speakers, meant that speaker would need to be attenuated by 9 dB, which would add ~9 dB of (unnecessary) overall filter insertion loss to the correction FIR filter.
The best plan is level match the speakers, which needs to be done anyway, before applying DSP. Now let’s check the step or timing response of the Atmos system:
As we can see, it is a bit of a mess. The chart is showing us two items of interest: the time in milliseconds that the sound is arriving at the microphone for each speaker and whether it is a positive polarity or not. One needs to observe closely as there are 12 speaker traces and we can unselect anyone one of them.
For polarity, the one that jumps out at me is the blue trace just past the 100ms mark and is a negative step response. I have a green arrow pointing at it in the chart. It is likely this speaker is wired out of phase. It is the top rear, left channel that has the polarity reversed. Without taking measurements, it is difficult to determine if a speaker is out of phase, other than it does not sound quite right, especially when dealing with 12 speakers. One would have to double/triple check the wiring/connections and even then without an actual measurement, it still would be difficult to determine.
Editor's Note: I crossed the wires when connecting the speaker cable to the amp for this speaker. Thanks to Mitch for pointing this out, from his home in Sunshine Coast, British Columbia, Canada. It's amazing what the measurements can tell you :~) - CC
While the green trace (which is the center speaker) has a negative going spike, it actually has an initial positive going spike, which means it is positive polarity as it is the initial spike or “step” that we can tell.
Another point of interest is the varying “up and down” waveforms past the direct sound at 100ms (which is actually 0ms but offset in Audiolense so we can see if there is any preringing of the signal before time 0ms for example). With each major horizontal division being 2ms, we are seeing approximately 34ms of sound travel past the microphone in this particular chart view. Sound travels roughly 1 foot per millisecond so we are looking at the room’s low frequency reflections travelling some 34 feet bouncing off the room dimensions. As we can see, some reflections are negative going and some positive going at the same time. This results in unclear bass response over time with image shifting that is frequency dependent.
We use Audiolense’s time domain (i.e. excess phase) correction capabilities at low frequencies to shape the timing response towards the ideal minimum phase response. This time domain correction is what makes the bass clear sounding. It is one thing to smooth the frequency response for even sounding bass, but quite another thing to have clear bass, which is what FIR filtering (with independent excess phase correction) has to offer over all other room correction filtering technologies. This is in addition to the FIR filters superior frequency resolution with 65.536 filter taps which is the equivalent to a graphic equalizer with 32,768 eq sliders. That is 1000 times the frequency resolution compared to a 31 band graphic equalizer.
Now that we have a good measurement with the speakers balanced in level and all speakers are positive polarity, we can design a high resolution FIR filter correction. The point of the previous section is to show that it takes time to carefully balance the level of all speakers and ensure that they are wired up correctly. It is no small feat with 12 speakers.
Designing a high resolution DRC FIR filter for Chris’s Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 music system
The first task is to determine the target frequency response which shapes the tonal response of the Atmos music system. There are frequency response target specifications for control rooms, critical listening rooms, etc., that I have covered in articles here at Audiophile Style. There is also a Dolby Atmos Music target frequency response from, Dolby Atmos Music Room, Best Practices for Music Room Configuration:
Note the vertical dB scale is in 1 dB increments, which makes it look more severe than it is. According to the spec: “nearfield rooms should use a target curve that is flat from 160 Hz to 1.6 kHz, -1.5 dB per octave from 1.6 kHz to 10 kHz, with a final downward deflection above 10 kHz to –3.0 dB per octave. In this nearfield environment, a +1.0 dB rise below 160 Hz is also utilized as seen in the chart above.”
I developed this Atmos spec target in Audiolense and in combination with the Correction Procedure Designer settings in Audiolense, generated a correction filter with Audiolense showing us the simulated frequency response result:
Very smooth frequency response in comparison to the raw measurements. For LFE, (pink trace), Chris’s sub has response down to 14 Hz in his room. Also down to 14 Hz with bass management for the rest of the channels with seamless integration with the sub. The little dip between 30 and 40 Hz in the LFE channel will not be noticed audibly. Our ears hear peaks more than dips. One can smooth the response even further, but the only effect will be adding more correction which will result in a lesser dynamic range sound or sound “over corrected.” Over correction is the number one issue for practitioners when using DSP/DRC. As a final note, over the years I have measured many systems with the Audiolense FIR filter in place and the measured results are within 0.25 dB of the simulation.
I developed another frequency response target using the EBU 3276 standard that Chris used for his 2 channel main system.
Editor's Note: There has been some confusion about which target curve I'm using. Both my two channel and immersive systems use the EBU 3276 curve, as seen below. - CC
The main difference comparing the two frequency response charts is that this one has more high frequency energy coming at one's ears than the Atmos target by about +3 dB from 1.6 kHz on up. It is a matter of personal preference as to which one Chris prefers. Both responses are extremely smooth across 14 Hz to 20 kHz. Impressive to see the Wilson center and surrounds also reach out to just about 20 kHz, which shows good off axis response in the top octave. Impressive.
Note that the frequency response in these charts are using 6 dB of maximum correction in Audiolense and can perhaps sound a bit constrained. After a few rounds of listening notes from Chris, we dropped the total amount of correction by half, so 3 dB of maximum correction still yielded the smooth response, but not quite as constrained sounding bringing back more dynamic range.
Let’s look at the important timing (step) response:
Scroll back up to compare the uncorrected time domain to this chart. Here we are seeing literally the “ideal” minimum phase response where not only each speaker’s direct sound is arriving at Chris’s ears at the same time, but each speaker’s response is the same over time. “Textbook” perfect with no preringing and I did not even have to use Audiolense’s preringing compensation control. Achieving this level of timing performance really says a lot about the quality of the Wilson speakers and Chris’s listening environment.
Note the timing response is nearly identical over 200ms of time for each speaker. Not only is the transient impact of the Atmos system fully realized, there is no interference from low frequency room reflections to muddle up the bass. This is an “immersive” system that has been fully optimised both in the frequency and time domain. Even the LFE channel which is +10 dB more in level is perfectly time aligned with all other speakers. For folks in the know, time aligning sub(s) with mains is no easy task due to the long wavelengths involved. There really is no other way than high resolution FIR filtering that can accomplish this level of frequency and time domain performance.
Atmos 7.1.4 DSP Calibration Conclusion
Calibrating multichannel systems can take extra time as we need to ensure each speaker’s level is more or less balanced to each other. We also want to check the polarity of all 12 speakers through measurements.
At low frequencies, we are using both frequency and time domain correction to not only smooth the bass response down to 14 Hz, but also take care of the “rat’s nest” of low frequency reflections that make the bass clear sounding. The result is tight, controlled bass from all 12 speakers that is crystal clear, with excellent transient impact.
As we get through the room modes and transition from waves to rays from about 300 Hz to 600 Hz, we are applying less and less time domain correction so we are only adjusting frequency response of the direct sound from each speaker as a gentle tilting tone control. This means each speakers tonal response is the same as the frequency response is the same. So there is no frequency dependent tonal changes or imaging shifting between speakers.
It also means each speaker’s time domain response is the same, over time. This allows one to hear much deeper into the recording without low frequency reflections muddling up the imagining. Time domain correction also increases the sonic 3D “depth of field” imaging. Given the identical frequency and timing response from all speakers, we have maximized/optimized Chris’s 7.1.4 Atmos music system to produce the most immersive sound experience possible.
Take it away Chris on your subjective listening impressions!
7.1.4 Immersive Audio System - Subjectively
To be honest, I haven't read the objective piece of this article yet. I have an idea what it should say, but I don't want it to cloud my judgement in any way. I want to listen and relay my subjective opinions unfettered by any measurements or words from anyone else. Here we go.
It goes without saying, but I'll briefly mention it here, I'm using convolution filters from Mitch during all my listening. Convolution filters are every bit as important as any component in my system. I add the filters either to JRiver Media Center, or to his new multichannel version of Hang Loose Convolver, and use Audirvana. The multichannel convolver is a fantastic piece of software that enables me to play albums that are 2.0, 4.0, 5.1, and Atmos etc... and have the audio routed to the correct channel, in addition to being perfect sounding at the listening position. Those, like me, who enjoy listening to Apple Music's large library of Atmos content that has never been released in a lossless Atmos version, can also use Appel Music outputting to multichannel Hang Loose Convolver.
First up is an album I've come to love because of immersive audio. Listening to the Atmos version of Ståle Kleiberg: Concertos (2L-166, lossless TrueHD Atmos) in a 7.1.4 speaker configuration is listening to this as the artist intended. Inside the PDF booklet available from the 2L website, and the physical paper booklet that comes with the disc, is a layout of the recording configuration, showing where each musician sat/stood, the conductors's position, and the microphone positions. Once viewed, readers can see how it's impossible to squash this recording into two channels, and have it resemble what's actually on the master. Don't get me wrong, the two channel presentation is fantastic, like all work from 2L. However, this recording takes complete advantage of immersive sound from the very beginning, enveloping the listener with every note.
Track 4, DOPO for Violoncello and String Orchestra, is 15 minutes of sonic bliss. Ranging from delicate cellos to a supporting cast of violins that enter softly and increase their impact throughout the track, to virtually levitate the listener. This performance, reproduced in Atmos, is enough to turn even the most hardcore pop music lover, into a fan of the orchestra.
The track starts with beautiful cellos, flanking the double bass players, in front of the listening position and the violins lusciously filling out the left and right sides. It's amazing how the cellos in front are as precise and articulate as any two channel recording, but with the added dimension of height. The sound of these cellos carries from the main Left, Center, and Right channels, up into the Top Front Left and Top Front Right channels. This height expansion just isn't possible without discrete Atmos channels on the ceiling. The results are absolutely exquisite.
Just as I was settling in with the front cellos, the surrounding violins entered to offer what seems like support for the cellos. Present for a few seconds, then gone. All done every pleasantly. This happens a couple times before the violins enter with an elegant bang starting about 3:50 into the track, from the surround channels, and extending up into the rear height channels. Sitting in my listening position, I can almost sense a wind coming from the violins on both sides of me, and it seriously feels like they are levitating the listening chair. I know this may sound crazy, but it must be experienced to be believed.
After the "storm,", shortly before the seven minute mark, the violins are absolutely sweet and lush as they envelope me from both sides. This is a case of more is more. It also makes me very happy that I selected Wilson Audio Alida loudspeakers for the surround and height channels. Atmos music uses every channel much more than movies, and every channel is critical to reproducing the music accurately. The violin sections on my left and right sides, extending everywhere else via natural reverberations captured on the recording, sound absolutely stunning through the Alidas. On recordings like this, every channel is equally important.
Switching to a track full of instruments that likely never existed together in real time, like those on 2L recordings, I listened to Moby's Porcelain (Acoustic Version) off his Deutsche Grammophon album Reprise (lossless TrueHD Atmos). This track is another stunner, and emphasizes the importance of good speaker and component selection throughout the system. The opening acoustic guitar is placed between the right channel, the right side channel, and the front top right channel. It hangs there in space, surrounded by air, and continues throughout the entire track.
The track continues with the unmistakable Moby piano/keyboard on the right, counterbalanced by a brush and cymbal on the left. Both sound incredibly good. The space around each instrument is reproduced by numerous speakers, in a way with which two channels just can't compete. I really hate to say that, but none of us are entitled to our own facts. Discrete channels, used by talented mixing engineers, can produce results unheard of in the world of stereo.
When Moby's voice comes in, dead center but for the most part through the front left and right channels, it reminds me of a Diana Krall recording. It's possible to hear the lyrics of course, but every sound made by Moby's mouth is front and center. I could virtual smell his breath, as the vocal hung there in the 3D space that is Atmos reproduction.
Off and on throughout this track, violins enter mainly on the left and right sides, but also expanding into other channels such as height and rear. The violins don't sound nearly as raw as the previous 2L recording, but the delicacy that rises up to support the action in the front and the emotion that can be heard from the instruments, is really special. Through the left and right side channel Alidas, the at times dueling solo violins, and at other times group of violins, sound so good, I could seriously turn my chair, face the side wall, and be just as enthralled with the sound.
There are a handful of elements in this Atmos acoustic version of Porcelain. The guitar, piano, voice, violin, and cymbal, each hang in a 3D space, with air around them, and are completely delineated from each other. There is zero melding of sounds because the soundstage is a 3D palette, with reproduction capable of emanating from 12 discrete channels, or any combination of channels. The distinct elements of this track can be focused on individually, similar to how I described above, or they can be enjoyed as a whole song that's much greater than the sum of its parts. When I listen to this track, outside of writing an article, I sit back in my listening chair, and let the entire sound envelope me, in an unparalleled sonic experience.
An album that's distinctly different from the natural immersive recoding of Ståle Kleiber: concertos and the digital studio creation of Moby's Reprise, is George Harrison's All Things Must Pass (lossless TrueHD Atmos). I never listened to this album prior to the lossless TrueHD Atmos version. I'd heard some tracks on the radio over the years, but never got fully into them. This album is now one that I listen to frequently because the immersive Atmos version is so engaging. My favorite track on the album is I'd Have You Anytime. Right from the start, I was sucked in by both the unique guitar up front and the subtle supporting sound from the side channels. This track uses the side channels quite a bit for guitar, slight backing vocals, and ambiance, and it really brings this from a two dimensional song one listener to at a distance, to something one enjoys being immersed in.
I don't think there would've ever be a time in my life when I walked around singing the following ...
All I have is yours
All you see is mine
And I'm glad to hold you in my arms
I'd have you anytime
...unless I listened to the Atmos version of this tracks and was totally taken by it. I didn't grow up with the Beatles or George Harrison. I have no sentimental feelings for or memories of this music. However, listening to the lossless TrueHD Atmos version on my 7.1.4 Wilson Audio, Transparent, Mytek, Merging, Constellation, and Accurate Sound system has made me love the album and want to know more about the meanings behind the songs. I also want to know more about George Harrison and his role with The Beatles. I always hear about Paul and John, but now I'm a huge fan of George. All because I'm immersed in his music and it sounds spectacular.
A more traditional, if there is such a thing, Atmos experience can be heard on the Esa-Pekka Salonen & Los Angeles Philharmonic "album" Le Scare du Printemps (lossless TrueHD Atmos). I call this a traidional recording because it attempts to place the listener in Walt Disney Hall, with the instruments coming from the front channels (including height channels), and reverb coming from the surround channels. In essence, this recording attempts to recreate the real live event, in one's home.
How does it sound? Absolutely amazing. This is a recording I would've listened to once and tossed aside, if I only had the stereo version. I know that may sound strange, but it's the truth. The Atmos version in my listening room is truly transformative. I know listen to the entire recording start to finish, without any interruptions, all the time. The sound is so engaging and enveloping that I can have my iPhone right next to me the whole time, and never look at it once, until after the final note is played.
The very first piece on this recording is Mussorgsky’s “Night on the Bald Mountain." It immediately grabbed my attention, and never let go. I was placed right in Walt Disney Hall, with the orchestra firing on all cylinders from the front and top speakers, and the entire Hall on the side and behind me. My Alexia front channels and the Lōkē subwoofer handled the booms with ease, while also blowing my hair back. Oh wait, that was a dream where I envisioned myself as the Maxell guy, when I had hair. In all seriousness, the bottom end from the Alexias and Lōkē was immediate, tight, and absolutely right.
Side note, the Lōkē's somewhat small stature, compared to other Wilson Audio subwoofers, is not a hinderance to fantastic performance. As readers saw in the objective section of this article, this subwoofer goes down to 14 Hz in my room! The last of physics always apply, so larger subwoofers would move more air, but the commitment for larger subwoofers is, in two words, much larger. The Lōkē is a compact, self-powered, powerhouse.
Side note two, Atmos music uses the Low Frequency Effects (LFE) channel as just that, for low frequency effects. This means that all bass is NOT routed to the subwoofer. Many recordings use very little of the LFE channel. However, when it is used, the impact takes my listening experience to another level. Word on the street says that Americans love bass. Count me as one of those Americans, as long as the subwoofer has an iron grip on the bass. In my system, with the Wilson Audio Lōkē, the bass is better than it has ever been. Period.
Back to Walt Disney Hall for some final comments on this recording. It's easy to get caught up in the immersive aspect of my system, and there's nothing wrong with that. But, the tendency of some audiophiles may be to believe that the system offers more quantity and less quality. As a knuckle-dragging, card-carrying audiophile myself, I had similar concerns. After listening to Bartók’s suite “The Miraculous Mandarin,” all my concerns are absolutely smashed on the floor.
From the most delicate notes to the bombastic crescendos, my 7.1.4 system reproduces them all as if they were the sole focus of one's critical listening. The soft violins in the background throughout The Miraculous Mandarin, all have texture and tone that's terrific. I'm amazed at how my system can reproduce it all, without fault. I'm sure it isn't perfect, I've yet to find a flaw. To say I'm captivated by immersive excellence is the understatement of the decade. I couldn't be happier.
Two other subjective experiences, among way too many to discuss, that I want to describe. One is the INXS album Kick, and the track New Sensation. This was mixed my Giles Martin, and is now an album I listen to all the time. I hadn't listened to this album for decades, until I got the lossless TrueHD Atmos version. Wow, this is a fun one! New Sensation absolutely rocks in Atmos. Every one of the 7.1.4 channels is used extensively, with the main guitar riff really audible in the side channels and Michael Hutchence's voice up front. I love cranking this one up, and letting the drums pound me in the chest, via 12 Wilson speakers. After New Sensation, is Devil in the Sky, and the fun continues. Kick is such a great album that only lives up to it's reputation through an Atmos mix. It's really something.
The other experience that I have to mention is when I brought my wife and daughter up to my listening room for an Atmos demonstration. They'd heard me talk about it, but without experiencing it first hand, it was just some uninteresting technical concept. I had one shot to provide a lasting first impression. I flipped open my MacBook Pro and Apple Music, outputting to multichannel Hang Loose Convolver for convolution, then on to the same hardware. I put on the song that has people in the music business talking, and one that I know my family likes. A great sounding demo with bad music, is a bad demo. A good sounding demo with great music, is a great demo.
I pressed play on the lossy Dolby Digital Plus Atmos version of Elton John's Rocket Man, and waited. The track starts fairly pedestrian, with the sound coming from the front channels. At about the 0:55 mark of the track, it demonstrates why the song one of the best Atmos mixes created to this day. Starting in the front channels with Elton's voice and piano is great. Bringing the backing vocals into the back and rear channels and rocket sound effects into rear and height channels is amazing. This song must be experienced to be believed. As proof, my wife and daughter we convinced immediately. Huge smiles other faces, and memories that will last forever. Now, if anyone asks them about Atmos music or spatial audio, they can answer unequivocally how much they enjoyed it. In addition, I saw first hand how a ten year old immediately took to Elton John's music. Extrapolate this to other artists and musical genres, and I can see young people getting much more interested in music as more than background noise or the soundtrack to TikTok videos.
At the start of 2022, when I first began researching Atmos music and decided I wanted to do it at the highest level possible, I had many moments of self doubt. Am I making the "wrong" move? What am I getting myself into? Did I bite off more than I can chew? And, of course, "That's a lot of speakers!" As I sit here in July, fresh off a visit from Wilson Audio's Peter McGrath and Tyler Hall, and with convolution filters from Mitch Barnett's Accurate Sound, I can absolutely say without a doubt that I'm ecstatic about my immersive audio system. I've never heard sound like this in my life. Yes, there are some incredible two channel systems out there, but they can't reproduce music like my system.
The importance of every element in the reproduction chain is the same as it is with two channel playback. I'm very happy I put Wilson Alidas on the walls and ceiling in my system. A delicate violin or full orchestra coming from my side, rear, or height channels sounds spectacular. I love mixes that use all the speakers because this system has zero weaknesses. The Mytek Brooklyn AMP+ units are also top notch. While measuring the room, Mitch told me the Alidas were fairly low in volume and the WATCH center was a little hot. Due to the configurability of the Mytek AMP+, I lowered the center channel by 6 dB and raised the Alidas by 6 dB, all via the Mytek software and a USB connection the service port of the amps. This brought the system into better balance, requiring even less room correction.
The digital front end of the system using Merging Anubis as D to D, and Merging HAPI Mk2 as DAC, is invaluable. These units have an ASIO and Core Audio driver that enables me to output from any app on any computer, and use the 65,000 tap, phase and time correct, convolution filters at sample rates from 16/44.1 through 24 bit / 384 kHz and DSD256.
Given my very positive experience with Transparent Audio power and cabling in my two channel system, it was a no-brainer to select Transparent for this immersive system. Based on both objective and subjective criteria, I'd say this selection holds up pretty well. Tying the system together with Transparent, front to back, is something I'd do again in a heartbeat.
Immersive audio is stunning and has the capability to bring high end audio to places it couldn't have imagined with two channels. Recordings made immersive from the start like those from 2L, recordings made in the studio electronically, recordings made to accurately reproduce a concert hall, and those re-mixed for Atmos can all be incredible. I've never listened to more music in my entire life, than I have since installing my immersive system. There are many ways to approach an immersive system in one's own house. My route was aimed solely at music playback at the highest level. I'm an audiophile who cares little for video. An immersive system that delivers more, but at decreased levels of quality, wasn't an acceptable approach for me. Supplementing my Wilson Alexia stereo speakers with Alidas, a WATCH Center, and a Lōkē, was the best move I've ever made. Happier than ever is a good way to describe how I feel lately. Fortunate, grateful, and satisfied are also solid descriptors of my audio life right now.